UK ‘has prime responsibility for protecting Good Friday Agreement’

The prime responsibility for protecting the Good Friday Agreement lies with Britain, Ireland’s deputy leader has said.

The comments came after a request from German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the EU ramp up its plans to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event of a no-deal scenario, with the creation of a taskforce.

“The commission has always said that their responsibility will be to obviously respect the Irish situation, but also to protect the integrity of the EU single market and customs union,” Simon Coveney said.

“We also have a competing challenge here which is as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement that needs to be protected.

“The British Government also has that responsibility.

“In fact, arguably I would say the British Government has the prime responsibility here, because of course it is British Government policy that has led to this challenge in the first place.”

Ms Merkel asked EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to examine a fall-back plan to uphold the Good Friday Agreement in a no-deal situation.

“I don’t accept that there is clearly a frustration with Ireland, there is an understanding across the European Union that the border question is a very emotive and political question on this island, that’s why we’ve had so much support and solidarity across the European Union for solutions to that question, that’s why we have the backstop within the Withdrawal Agreement,” Mr Coveney added.

“It’s why, even in a no-deal scenario, the European Commission will work with Ireland to ensure that of course we need to protect the single market, we will also ensure that it doesn’t result in physical infrastructure on the island.”

The Fine Gael party conference which started in Wexford on Friday night will welcome DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to speak over the weekend.

The DUP released a critical statement of Theresa May on Friday, in which MP Nigel Dodds claimed the Prime Minister had  consistently settled for “inferior compromises” and criticised the fact that Theresa May did not secure changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.

Mr Coveney said that having the agreement changed was never the aim of the meetings in Brussels.

“I read the statement that Nigel Dodds made today, it was very critical of the Prime Minister – I think we need to be careful not to read too much into emotive language now,” he added.

“We have tried to respond to their perspective by giving reassurance and clarification and the EU has responded very generously to the concerns they have over the backstop, and that is why we have to go with the Withdrawal Agreement, a legal document that requires the EU to set timelines and processes.

“The statement that she hasn’t changed the perspective of the EU is an unfair criticism, the European Council was never going to be about changing the Withdrawal Agreement it was about focusing on timelines and whether or not Article 50 got extended, and I think expecting anything else was unrealistic.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long and SDLP MLA Claire Hanna will also attend the conference on Saturday.

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